A Band Plays in Brooklyn

04/07/2010 4:00 AM |

At the rehearsal, the band regroups after taking five. A draft of the program for that weekend’s concert gets passed around, so everyone can check that his or her name has been spelled correctly. “The concert’s on Sunday,” Ball says, which also happens to mark the start of Daylight Savings Time. “Here’s the thing—turn your clocks forward.” After a pause, he adds, “tell your friends to do the same.”

Throughout the rehearsal, the group’s cohesion falters, either from exhaustion or because some members hadn’t rehearsed some pieces as well as others. (The band seems to have a predilection for adventuresome jungle-chase music, but that might just be because all modern tonal music tends to sound like film scoring.) But it’s because things go wrong—notes flubbed, tempos lost—that it becomes transcendent to hear them go gloriously right again. I’m conscious more than ever among these scrappy ragtaggers of the strange magic of collective music making, how individual people producing individual sounds cohere alchemically into harmonic grandeur. And of how fragile that sonic union is, how easily the majesty can crumble.

At the beer hall, with a steaming goblet of wine-like beer in front of him, Ball tells me something similar about producing music with other people—lest you think the music was just a pretense to meet for drinks, the way married men put together poker nights. “It’s a feeling unlike anything else,” he tells me. “The closest thing on this earth to perfection.”

The Grand Street Community Band might fall short of perfection—”there were mistakes, as I’m sure you heard, but not many,” Ball tells me. “We’re handling it”—but its philharmonic spirit is indomitably idealistic, infectious and inspiring. As the band rehearses Charles Rochester Young’s “Tempered Steel” (1997), a student wanders into the room, moves to the side and improvises jagged dances to the piece’s irregular rhythms before hammering her hands in the air like a timpanist, though she clearly means to ape the conductor. But soon her goofballery fades; she stops ADD’ing and listens closely, takes out a digital camera and starts shooting video. The musicians may have converted one more person to fandom, which means one more person, possibly, to give them a reason to continue pursuing their passion. Which is all they seem, desperately, to want to do.